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Old reliable — it's been in pockets all over the…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $12
Old reliable — it's been in pockets all over the world in all situations for nearly a century.
- Easy to use
- Rugged - nearly bombproof
- Easy to fuel
- Minimal servicing required
- Very weather resistant
- Parts requiring service can be surprisingly tiny
- Fuel can be smelly
- Incorrect fuel can lead to extremely poor function
- Anachronistic - 'vintage' is a polite term heard when using it
- Fuel will evaporate over time even if unused.
Zippo's wick lighters, the 'windproof' lighters, have been used around the world since the 1930s. The design has hardly changed, aside from updating materials, in all that time. Parts from a 1940s zippo will fit into a modern day Zippo. I carried WWII era Zippo for over a decade and the only time it let me down was when I forgot to fill it. I currently have a modern production Zippo and it's just as reliable.I
'If it's not broke, don't fix it' could be the end-sum definition of Zippo's design aesthetic. These lighters have functioned on the same mechanism for over 80 years now. There are modern updates of the lighters that use butane, and still fit in the exterior case, but we're not talking about those.
Operation is simple. Flip open cap (if you cannot get leverage to do this with heavy gloves there are a number of techniques to open the lighter) and run your thumb/finger over the flint wheel. Close to extinguish.
I'm not kidding. It really is that simple.
The flame basket and wick combination is highly wind resistant. Ut won't stay lit in very strong winds, but even in gusts it won't often go out. When well fueled these lighters work in rainy/stormy conditions pretty reliably. Water doesn't really faze them unless you dunk them with the top open for extended periods.
Refueling is also a simple affair. Pull the insert, take a can of the fluid (I prefer the Zippo branded premium as it's nearly odorless, but the ronson will work as well), use the top of the case to lift the little nozzle (or a knife), insert the tip into the hole in the felt at the bottom of the lighter, and squeeze it for a second or two. Don't fill it till it drips out of the top or you'll be cleaning the lighter (and yourself) before lighting for a day or two. Reinsert into the case in the proper orientation, and you're done.
Carrying one can be seen as anachronistic in this day of spark-rods and butane torches with their 1500 degree flames, and that's fine. Those work perfectly fine. I always have a spark rod with me and have carried a torch-type lighter off and on for years.
'Vintage' is one polite term I've heard. 'Caveman' is a not-so-polite term. For what it's worth, neither of those options can function as a light source in a pinch, when your headlamp suddenly dies and you have to rummage through a pack in the dark.
A couple of items of note: The wrong fuel can render one of these useless until the wick and batting is replaced (very available parts). Trying to use any 'lighter fluid' other than the Zippo branded, and in most cases the ronson/ronsonol branded fluids, especially grill lighting fluids, will completely gum up the works. The lighter will be stubborn even after refueling with the right stuff.
The flints are a challenge to replace even in ideal conditions. They last for ages, just like the wicks, but they're a pain in the butt to replace, and I personally wouldn't want to do it in the field. If you're thinking it's time, or you just want to do it in the name of preparedness, do it at home. In a well lit room. On a white towel. And have plenty of spares. And keep a hand on the little spring bit when you remove it; it can take off in the blink of an eye if you're not diligent.
The fuel, being a volatile petrochemical, evaporates over time. Keep this in mind if you own one! Refuel before going out. This is probably the biggest weakness of the Zippo over a butane job and can be a pretty big deal. Always remember to give it a little fluid before you go out.